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Trivia / Rebel Without a Cause

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  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies: #59
  • Cast the Expert: One of the gang members is Frank Mazzola, a real life teen gang member. Nicholas Ray hired him as a research consultant. As a result of his exposure in the film industry, Mazzola became interested in film-making and later found fame as a film editor. He's especially famous for his work on Performance.
  • Cast the Runner-Up: Dennis Hopper was considered for Plato. He made his film debut as Goon.
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  • Completely Different Title: The Danish title of the film is Wild Blood if directly translated.
  • The Danza: James Dean plays James "Jim" Stark.
  • Dawson Casting: Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood were the right age; James Dean was 24 and looks it, enough that his romances with the other two feel a bit squicky.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Those were real switchblades used in the knife-fight. The actors wore protective chain-mail under their shirts.
  • Method Acting: James Dean got angry when Nicholas Ray stopped the knife fight scene after noticing that Dean had been cut on the ear and was bleeding. Dean said, "Don't you ever cut a scene while I'm having a real moment."
  • The Production Curse: All three lead actors died prematurely under tragic circumstances; James Dean died in an automobile accident in September 1955, Sal Mineo was stabbed to death on February 12, 1976, and Natalie Wood drowned in the late autumn of 1981. In addition, Edward Platt committed suicide in 1974 and Dennis Hopper fell ill suddenly in the fall of 2009 and died five months later.
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  • Reality Subtext: Nicholas Ray's interest in generation gap came out of a spectacular personal trauma. He had been married twice before and had a son from his first marriage and had a terrible second marriage with actress Gloria Grahame. Then one day, he arrived home and found out that Gloria Grahame was engaged in an affair with his 13 year old son from his first marriage. Ray understandably flipped out and after the inevitable divorce, Ray felt guilty about the entire stiuation and a lot of the themes of the film (the Parental Incest, sexual confusion, generation gap) came from his attempt to come to terms with his own failure as a father.note 
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  • Recycled Set: The empty pool in which the characters sit and discuss their lives first appeared in Sunset Boulevard. The pool had been built specially for the earlier film, as a condition of renting the site from its owner, Mrs J. Paul Getty.
  • The Red Stapler:
    • T-shirt sales soared after James Dean wore one in this film. At the time, they were mostly considered underwear, to keep sweat stains off a collared dress shirt; this gave Dean's outfit an offensive quality totally lost on later audiences precisely because Dean wore it so very well.
    • The movie pushed the 1949-50 Mercury from just another used car into one of the most popular customizing platforms of the mid/late '50s.
  • Romance on the Set: The film's set was kind of legendary for all kinds of wild stories. Dennis Hopper and Natalie Wood were engaged in a relationship, yet Natalie Wood also hooked up with director Nicholas Ray, who also engaged in a relationship with Sal Mineo.
  • Throw It In!:
    • The part where Jim and Judy find Plato wearing one blue sock and one red sock was not scripted. Sal Mineo actually put them on that way by mistake.
    • The opening scene in the movie with Jim Stark and the toy monkey was improvised by James Dean after the production had been shooting for nearly 24 hours straight. He asked Nicholas Ray to roll the camera, that he wanted to do something. Ray obliged and the improvisation went on to become the famous opening scene.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • The film was originally supposed to be in black-and-white. The decision to shoot the film in color meant less pay for extras, which is why there were few of them in the knife fight scene.
    • Marlon Brando did a screen test for the part of Jim in 1947, when Warner Bros. first considered making a film based on the nonfiction book. Nothing came of it, however, and when production finally got underway with a re-written script a few years later, Brando (who by that point was likely seen as too old and too much a "name" star for the role) was never considered.note 
    • Originally in the beginning of the movie, there was a gang beating up a father, who drops a toy on the sidewalk. The studio thought it was too violent, so it was cut. Jim Stark can be seen playing with the toy after he finds it on the ground during the opening credits.
    • Some of the earlier drafts for the movie had the three main kids named Jim, Eve and Demo. Demo was later changed to a 13-year-old boy named The Professor.
    • The film was originally going to contain a kiss between James Dean and Sal Mineo.
    • Paul Newman was considered for Jim.
    • Debbie Reynolds was considered for Judy.
    • Anthony Perkins was considered for Plato.
    • Walter Matthau was considered for Jim's father.
    • In 2010, a 'New York Times' article about Nicholas Ray's widow Susan said she had in her archives an original, unused treatment for "Rebel" in which the ending was very different: Plato was going to shoot Jim and then blow himself up with a grenade. But another Times report in 2011 says the archive contains a Ray storyboard which shows it's Plato himself who is shot from the top of the planetarium. (A treatment is a preliminary synopsis of the story for a proposed movie that either gets written before the script is started [as in this case] or afterward so that executives at a potential producer's or investor's company won't have to read the whole script.) Further back, a 1999 interview with screenwriter Stewart Stern also mentioned the "Plato shot from the top of the planetarium" ending, as well as yet another alternate ending where the police shot first Plato, then Jim as he ran to Plato's side. This was Stern's preferred ending, but Nicholas Ray insisted on less of a Downer Ending and more of a bittersweet one.
  • Word of Gay: Plato is supposed to be gay (his actor Sal Mineo was bisexual), but the censors at the time wouldn't let them say it, so it's only implied. Nicholas Ray (himself bisexual) confirmed that Plato was gay in later interviews. He and James Dean told Sal Mineo to "look at Jim like Natalie does".

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